Thank you for writing such an interesting – and heroic – post. For me, your question goes to the heart of Campbell’s teachings as you are wondering how to live your life heroically and, if I may say so, you are approaching your life as a quest. I am delighted by the replies you received from James and Stephen – particularly James’s reference to the dark forest (aye!) and Stephen’s beautiful quote from Pathways to Bliss.
My thoughts are that at the tender age of 23 you did what so many of us do at that age: looked outside of yourself for counsel when the answers lie within. I would suggest that your old painting teacher gave good counsel at the time: namely, to follow your heart. Campbell, as you know, said ‘Follow your bliss’. The principle is the same. Your teacher was the embodiment of the mentor then, but it is not always easy to follow one’s own instincts or to discern whose counsel it is best to trust.
I know that we have more than one chance in life. In his book The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden, Robert A. Johnson writes about this. He believes that we attain a grand vision early in our life and we have two chances to achieve the vision: once in youth, and again in midlife.
‘Fate is kind and allows us two chances in life when the veil between consciousness and the unconscious grows thin. One of these is mid-adolescence when one is gratuitously allowed to see a great vision and the other is in mid-life when he has a second chance to touch his visionary life if he has earned the right.’
Robert writes this in the context of the story of Parsifal, the fisher king and the Romance of the Grail. He goes on to write in the same book that ‘The Grail castle is close at hand every night of one’s life and may be experienced at any time.’ I understand this to mean that, in fact, we have many more than two opportunities: we have choices every day of our life and our night dreams are always seeking to guide us too. For that reason I like your reference to a dream journal 🙂
Perhaps you would find it helpful to study Campbell’s teachings about the Romance of the Grail and the quest of Parsifal? (I think these might be my favourite of all of Campbell’s teachings.)
Other thoughts: when I hear the name ‘Austin’ I tend to think of Bill Hicks, because that’s where he was from. In my view Bill was a great teacher. Remember he said ‘it’s just a ride’ and we can ‘change the ride at any time’…? I love that questing, freedom-loving spirit towards life.
Mostly, I think we have to be kind and patient and forgiving with ourselves whenever we feel we have erred, or missed a mark; just be kind and understanding and patient with yourself. Keep dancing and doing what gives you a sense of vitality and joy; try to be in the present rather than the past or future; and try to ‘love the questions’. On that note, I will leave you with some wise words from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke:
‘I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’